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SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

Aug 20

Court Allows Groundbreaking Case Against Anti-Gay Religious Leader to Proceed

By The Center for Constitutional Rights, SpeakOut | Report

Historic ruling confirms LGBTI rights as internationally recognized.

August 14, 2013, Springfield, MA – Today, in a first-of-its kind case brought by a Ugandan LGBTI advocacy organization against a prominent U.S. anti-gay extremist, a federal judge ruled that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a crime against humanity and that the fundamental human rights of LGBTI people are protected under international law. The ruling means that the case brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), a Uganda-based coalition of LGBTI rights and advocacy groups, can move forward over defendant Scott Lively’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms,” said Judge Michael Ponsor. “The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability.”

Aug 20

Bad Precedent and Bad Faith

By Lawrence Davidson, SpeakOut | News Analysis

Back in January of 2012 former war correspondent Christopher Hedges and others, including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg, filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and specifically the Act’s Section 1021(b)(2), which allows for indefinite detention by the U.S. military of people “who are part of or substantially support Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States.” This detention denies those held of the ability to “contest the allegations against them because they have no right to be notified of the specific charges against them.” In this suit filed by Hedges et al., the issue in question was the vagueness of the terms “substantially support” and “associated forces.” For instance, could this vagueness lead to apprehension and detention of journalists who publish interviews with members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban? Could it lead to the same treatment against political activists protesting U.S. policies against these or “associated” groups?

The case, now designated Hedges v. Obama, was initially heard in New York District Court by Judge Katherine Forrest. The plaintiffs claimed that the NDAA violated the 1st (free speech), 5th (due process as well as the stipulation that people must be able to understand what actions break the law) and 14th (equal protection) Amendments to the Constitution. To address the question Judge Forrest asked the government lawyers if they could assure the court that the activities of the plaintiffs would not result in indefinite detention under the act. If they could give such assurances it would, as far as the judge was concerned, eliminate the plaintiff’s “standing” to challenge the law. 

Aug 19

Why We Will Be Marching on August 24

By Tithi Bhattacharya and Bill V Mullen, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

As Professors at Purdue University, like many others, we were horrified and angered by the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman. But these events are not something that happened in isolation in a gated community in distant Florida. Recent events at our land grant University and in our state, Indiana, have forced us to understand the alarming connections between the national drive for privatization of education, and the variety of dangers and threats they pose to people of color.

The "War on Women" debate gives us an interesting insight into the Republican Party. The "War" began when Republicans voted against the Lilly Ledbetter pay act, then they refused to renew the Violence Against Women Act, then tried to prevent women from accessing birth control. Then they said some really stupid things about rape and were generally buttholes about the whole business.But now the Republicans think they have ammunition against the Democrats. "We just pass legislation that make it women harder to get fair wages, get an abortion in the case of rape and report sex abuse," they say, "Democrats hurt real women by harassing them at work." As the AP oddly puts it, "While the controversies surrounding Akin and Murdock focused on words, the spectacles involving Weiner and Filner center on actions."

While writing this, I hear gunshots. Soon a police helicopter circles the next door Louis Armstrong Projects; its spotlight sweeps their rooftops like a submarine inspecting an ocean floor.
I turn off the lights so the shooter won't see me, move the curtain and study the roof where gunfire echoed. No one was there. Scanning the city beyond, I know mostly Black and Latino men are shooting or being shot.

Light headed with adrenaline, I close the curtain. In Bed-Stuy, the fear of violence never fades but throbs under the surface of everyday life. On my stoop, a young man was shot dead. His father sits there nearly every day, as if waiting for his son to return. Between the killings are random shots like tonight that send me peering through the window.

Aug 18

Four Tasks for College Professors

By Laura Finley, SpeakOut | Op-Ed

A few days ago, I read on Facebook the re-posting of an essay, authored by a young college professor, which discussed the five things students should never say to their professors. Originally published in USA Today, the list includes such gems as "Did I miss anything important," "I took this class for an easy A," "I didn't know we had anything due," "I was studying for another course so couldn't do my work for this class," and "Did you answer my email yet."

While I, like so many professors, have been asked all of these questions during my teaching career, I want to offer a different list, this one for professors. Too often, educators, and especially professors, seem to operate from the perspective that "this job would be Ok if it weren't for the kids." That list of questions not to ask, in my mind, comes from the same place. While it may have been intended to help students get in good with their professors, it seems to suggest that students are clueless dolts who are annoyingly self-centered.

With the recent announcement by the Netanyahu government that it intends to build 1,200 more settlement homes on disputed land in the West Bank – even in the face of proposed peace talks – it serves us well to look back at seminal events in the region's history that might shed a light on the sort of exceptionalism and, frankly, hubris demonstrated by Netanyahu and previous Israeli administrations in promoting and subsidizing these settlements deemed illegal by most of the international community. The incident from Brunner's documentary above provides a clue. It was just one moment in a systematic campaign by IDF forces to empty Palestinian towns and villages of their native inhabitants at the height of the 1948 War. What is significant is that as each town and village was overtaken and its inhabitants driven off, the business of expulsion took on an air of normalcy, rationalized at first as an unfortunate consequence of war, then embraced as a legitimate national policy. This experience has habituated segments of Israeli society to the practice of wresting property from others and moving in, a practice at the core of the current strife in the Occupied Territories.

YREKA, Calif.— Three conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service for approving a 50-year plan by Fruit Growers Supply Co. to accelerate logging of occupied spotted owl habitat and for granting "take permits" for endangered species on 150,000 acres of forest in Siskiyou County, Calif. The agencies approved a "habitat conservation plan" for Fruit Growers that continues a history of overharvesting, allowing the company to log thousands of acres in the next 10 years in exchange for promised future habitat improvements that are highly uncertain. Included in the plan is approval to "take," that is, harm or kill, more than 80 northern spotted owls that are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Aug 16

The National Labor Relations Board Has Five Senate Confirmed Members

By Office of Public Affairs, SpeakOut | Press Release

Today, for the first time since August 21, 2003, the National Labor Relations Board has a full complement of five Senate confirmed members. Four new members, all nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed last month by the U.S. Senate have been sworn into office. NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce was also confirmed last month to an additional five year term on the Board.